What happens when people are extremely isolated?

2023-06-01 07:25:00, Kuriozitete CNA

What happens when people are extremely isolated?

Humans have evolved to survive and succeed as social creatures. Understanding, dynamic cooperation and connection with others are essential to our existence as a species. And yet, or perhaps because of this, some individuals insist on testing their limits.

They voluntarily submit themselves to extreme environments and conditions to test what the human body and mind can endure. Over the past century, scientists have monitored people who have voluntarily isolated themselves in caves, space, and even under the ocean for days to months.

In the most extreme scenarios, scientists themselves have tested the limits for themselves. While some of the experiments are likely to be considered unethical in today's world, individual researchers continue to study in this area which carries quite a few risks.

As of March 1 of this year, an associate professor at the University of South Florida has been teaching his students exclusively via the Internet while living alone 20 feet under the ocean in Key Largo, Florida. Completing 73 days in total isolation earlier this month, Jozef Dituri set a new world record as the person who has lived the longest continuously underwater and in a fixed environment.

He is planning to stay there until June 9 to complete 100 days. Undersea Lodge, the former underwater research laboratory where Knowledge is located is now a 9.3 square meter recreational destination accessible only by diving.

As a veteran researcher of hyperbaric medicine, Dituri is documenting this scientific expedition with a support team named "Project Neptune 100". The main goal of the research is to evaluate the effects of long-term living under extreme atmospheric pressure and limitation, which can then be applied to space missions, but also to underwater exploration.

Research so far in this area is very limited. Beyond the dangers of decompression sickness, living under the sea partially alters the availability of oxygen in the human body. Divers who build or repair pipelines or other commercial infrastructure down to a depth of 305 meters often spend weeks living in pressurized chambers to acclimate to the extreme environment.

But even when they follow the right protocol, they constantly experience headaches, fatigue and other ailments. Living underwater, even inside a cabin, can cause superficial skin infections or rashes that become dangerous if left untreated.

Factors such as lack of sunlight, high levels of humidity and limited sanitary measures in the environment present challenges to long-term living. In Dituri's case, doctors performed a series of physical tests before he left for the underwater lodge, as they visited him from time to time, and will perform more tests after he returns to the surface to compare results.

So far, Dituri has reported experiencing more REM and deep sleep, while her cholesterol and stress levels have dropped. As a veteran in biomedical engineering, Dituro is particularly interested in the potential benefits of pressurized environments for treating traumatic brain injuries, an emerging field of study with mixed results and no small amount of controversy.

Caves have a longer and more powerful history of extreme trials of human isolation. As early as 1938, University of Chicago physiology researcher Nathaniel Kleitman and an assistant spent 32 days isolated in Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

Their research on internal circadian rhythms and temperature cycles in the human body was later published in a book. Meanwhile, the French scientist Michel Sifre spent 2 months in 1962 in isolation in a cave, without having a watch, natural light or calendar.

He went on to conduct a series of similar experiments with other human subjects before spending six months on his own in another cave in 1972. Sifre's research and fascination with our body's internal biological clock laid much of the groundwork for in the field of human chronobiology.

Meanwhile, the Italian sociologist Maurizio Montalbini, who is said to have spent 2 years and 18 months isolated in caves during his life, also contributed to this field. But what does isolation do to a person?

In recent decades, hundreds of people have been isolated in various caves or in laboratory simulations (both short-term and long-term) as part of scientific studies. This includes the Spanish climber Beatriz Flamini, who just last month emerged from a record 500-day isolation in a cave.

She said she felt as if time did not pass at all as she was immersed in a dark and stable environment. In some of Sifre's experiments, the French scientist reported that test subjects naturally shifted to a 48-hour sleep-wake cycle, rather than the 24-hour period based on sunlight that governs most of our lives today.

They will be active for 30 hours, then sleep for 12 or more hours. In one case, Sifre said, his team recorded a man sleeping for more than 33 hours straight. Listening to him through the microphone, the researchers became concerned that the subject might have died in isolation when they finally heard him snore.

The intermingling of studies on cave isolation has shed more light on a number of unique physiological responses in humans. These include increased heart rate, vitamin D deficiency, muscle damage and inflammatory responses, and irregular menstrual cycles in women.

An experiment involving a 27-year-old woman who spent 131 days in the Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, showed a significant drop in the number of red and white cells upon entering the isolation, and then a recovery of speed of their number./ Adapted from CNA.al

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